The Philadelphia Eagles play the New York Giants on Thursday evening at Lincoln Financial Field. Here’s how we expect the game to unfold.
EAGLES PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
BLG: Lane Johnson.
For the first time since Week 5, the Eagles will be starting their original 2016 offensive line configuration: Jason Peters at left tackle, Allen Barbre at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Brandon Brooks at right guard, and Lane Johnson at right tackle. Johnson is finally back from his 10-game suspension and Barbre is set to return to the lineup after missing time due to a hamstring injury.
It’s likely not just a coincidence the Eagles played their best football of the season when they had their starting offensive line intact. The Birds went 3-0 in their first three games and easily could have gone 4-0 if Ryan Mathews didn’t make a huge mistake by fumbling late in the Eagles-Lions game.
Now that Johnson is back, it will be interesting to see how the Eagles’ offense performs. Prior to his suspension, he was playing like one of the best right tackles in the league. Johnson is reliable in pass protection and his athleticism figures to give the Eagles a boost in the run game.
It remains to be seen how smoothly Johnson will transition back into the game. Doug Pederson made no hesitation to name Johnson his starter at right tackle upon his return, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Johnson is rusty. Recalling back to when Johnson served a four-game suspension in 2014, the young right tackle showed some rust in his first game back that season.
The damage done by Johnson’s second career PED suspension has already been done. The Eagles went 2-8 in his absence. Philadelphia was eliminated from the playoffs in the final game before his return. Johnson admitted he failed his team. All he can do now is go out and try to put his mistakes behind him. Playing well would be a good start to earning back forgiveness.
Josh: Rodney McLeod.
I’ll go on the other side of the ball and focus on a guy whom I view as one of the most underrated parts of the Eagles’ defense. While I disagree with people questioning his effort in the Bengals game on Jeremy Hill’s touchdown run (it was just simply a bad play, in my opinion), I understand the criticism of McLeod not attacking Kenneth Dixon soon enough on the Ravens’ last score on Sunday. Still, those couple of snaps don’t take away from the huge impact he’s had on the team this year.
McLeod was named a second alternate for the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, and he deserves it. When the Inquirer’s Jeff McLane anonymously polled almost every Eagle on the team about who their one pick to make the Pro Bowl would be, McLeod finished with just two votes less than Peters, who got a team-high 11 votes. That result didn’t surprise me at all because when I asked several defensive starters a few weeks ago who they thought the team MVP was, McLeod’s name came up more than anyone else’s.
Why? One thing I kept hearing was about was how not only does his impact not show up in the box score, but it doesn’t always materialize on the game’s broadcast because the cameras follow the ball. Teammates called him a space eater who has great range on the back end and takes away the quarterback’s reads or makes throws much more difficult. Other defensive backs mentioned how he can bail them out if they’re beaten in coverage.
But even the 26-year-old would acknowledge he hasn’t been as good recently, and I’m curious how McLeod plays this week after Jim Schwartz said he wants to get the safety “back to being the blur on the field that he was the first half of the season.” It’s no secret that the Eagles’ ability to limit Odell Beckham Jr.’s big plays will go a long way in determining the winner of this game, and if the Birds do prevent Beckham from killing them, McLeod’s going to have to play a big role in that.
“You don’t want a safety that’s ready, fire, aim. And you don’t want a safety that’s ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, never pull the trigger. That’s where I told him my opinion was that’s where he’s gotten to these last couple games,” Schwartz said. “I want him to get back to early in the season where that 23 was a blur everywhere on the field. And you don’t want to be risky and you don’t want to take chances sometimes when you are the post player, but you’ve got to pull the trigger when it comes. I have enough confidence in him to trust his judgment to pull the trigger.”
OVER/UNDER: 1.5 Eli Manning interceptions — Whaddya got?
Manning has thrown two interceptions in five of New York’s games this season, including the first Eagles-Giants matchup. He’s thrown at least one pick in eight games.
For the Eagles to win this game, they’ll need to generate pressure on Manning. That can be a difficult task because the Giants’ quarterback likes to get the ball out fast at times. New York ranks tied for the fourth-least sacks taken this year (21).
Still, Manning is prone to making mistakes. The Eagles’ pass rush has fizzled on the road this season but the unit has had some real strong games at home (Steelers, Vikings, Falcons). Schwartz had better hope his players can get pressure or it could be another long day for the Eagles’ vulnerable secondary.
Manning averages just under one interception per game (13 picks in 14 contests), and I think that’s the number he ends up with tonight. The Eagles’ defense did a nice job of forcing turnovers early in the season, but they’ve regressed significantly in that area as they now rank in the middle of the pack with 11 interceptions.
If the Birds do force Manning into multiple mistakes through the air, it’s unlikely the Eagles’ cornerbacks will be responsible. Corners account for only three of the Eagles’ 11 interceptions this season, with Jordan Hicks and McLeod leading the team with three picks each.
BLG: Eagles 20, Giants 19
I’m taking the Eagles to win tonight. Do I feel super confident about it? No, because the Giants are the better team on paper. But the feeling here is that the Eagles are just due for a win in a spot like this.
The Eagles have showed some good fight in the past two games. They were in reasonable position to beat both Washington and Baltimore, but they just didn’t finish. Those games were similar to how the Eagles had a chance to beat the Giants earlier this season but didn’t capitalize on their final scoring opportunity.
The feeling here is the Eagles are very aware of the fact they’re 0-4 in the division with two NFC East games left to play. The Birds might not be able to make the playoffs, but they really won’t want to get swept by their rival teams. Especially when the final games are at home.
New York isn’t a particularly strong road team; they’re 3-3 in away games this season. Two of their road wins have come over the winless Browns and struggling Rams. (And the Los Angeles game was actually a neutral field in London.) Their road win over the Cowboys in Week 1 was obviously a quality victory, but it also came by only one point. So it’s not like the G-Men have had wild success playing away from MetLife Stadium.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have played some of their best football at home this year. The Birds are 4-2 in six tilts at the Linc. The only game the Eagles didn’t have a chance to win at the end was the Packers contest.
Beating the Giants won’t be easy for the Eagles. New York’s defense could give Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense some real trouble. With that said, getting their starting offensive line back could be a significant boost for Philadelphia. Pederson should look to try to establish the run like he successfully did against the Ravens’ top-ranked run defense last week. If the Eagles can get their ground game going, they’ll have a chance to win their first division game this season.
Josh: Giants 23, Eagles 17
I was very close to picking the Birds too, BLG. It just feels like a game they’ll pull out with Johnson returning as they’re back at home to get their first division win of the season. But I just can’t get over their inability to finish games.
While the Eagles are 0-6 in one-possession games, including their five-point loss to the Giants earlier this season, New York is 8-2 in one-possession games. I don’t think much separates these two teams, but because I expect it to be a close one, I’m taking the team with a proven track record of coming out on top in tight contests.
The Giants come in burning hot as they’ve won five of their six games since the first time these two teams met, while the Eagles have lost five of their last six. I expect the Birds to drop to 0-5 in NFC East games, which they haven’t done since 2005.
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